The USSR’s past predetermined the present of post-soviet independent states.

gulina smallBy Olga R. Gulina
CEO and founder of the RUSMPI Institute on Migration Policy; Alumna of Moscow School of Political Studies
6 August 2021

The collapse of the USSR was sudden although not as swift as many imagine... 

The USSR’s past predetermined the present of post-soviet independent states.


30 years after the collapse of the USSR, what has changed in the policy of post-Soviet States with regard to their citizens living abroad?

The collapse of the USSR was sudden although not as swift as many imagine. The division of the territory of the newly independent states was a relatively fast and bloodless process. It ended an epoch of a single Eurasia and marked the starting point for the definition and establishment of national statehood, as well as the determination of the interests of the individual nations. However, neither the ruling elites, nor the population were ready for a separate and autonomous existence. To varying degrees, the governments of the newly independent states were incapable of taking over the reins of state governance, guaranteeing public order, reviving, transforming and stabilising the economy, or ensuring safety and controlling their own borders.

In those rather difficult times very little attention was given to nurturing relations with the people who all of a sudden found themselves on the opposite side of the border. Many years later, with the passage of time – at the beginning of the 2000s – most independent sates had to design and establish some kind of relationship with their populations living outside their own borders. After meeting the challenges of creating a state, they started dealing with diaspora matters.

Domestic political events in former USSR countries lead to improvement of relations with their diasporas.

Scientists are familiar with the concept of “transformative events”, which in one way or another create or change the content of events they are studying. The collapse of the USSR was a pivotal moment in all newly independent states for defining and establishing national statehood but it did not spark the building of relations with their own people on the other side of the newly created state borders.

The situation only began to change in the early 2000s with Russia defining itself as the rallying point for, as Vladimir Putin is reported to have said, the “Russian people as one of the largest, if not the largest, group of divided people in the world”. This concept covered all those born or living in the Russian State, the Republic of Russia, the Soviet Russian Federation - RSFSR, USSR and the Russian Federation as well as their descendants, who “had chosen to maintain spiritual, cultural and legal connections with Russia”.

In the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan the ongoing territorial conflict is one of the key events affecting their relations with their population outside their respective countries and continues to be an attempt to strengthen their diaspora lobby.

Moldova, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, whose populations abroad mainly comprise labour migrants and their family members, were particularly interested in implementing a diaspora policy facilitating the return of their migrants with a view to benefiting from their professional skills for the future of their countries.

In the case of three former USSR countries, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Belarus, domestic political events provided an opportunity for improving and strengthening relations with their diasporas. In Uzbekistan, the change came from the top in 2017 during the Presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev. He said the country was interested in “…maintaining close contacts with compatriots and Uzbek diasporas abroad to step up the role and image of Uzbekistan in the international arena”. As of 2019, Uzbekistan adopted laws and programmes for its citizens born in Uzbekistan and their immediate descendants; for those, who, despite residing outside Uzbekistan, identify themselves with their historical motherland and/or have ethnic or language links with the country and thus, wish to increase contacts with Uzbekistan and contribute to its prosperity.

Ukrainian and Belorussian diasporas have a completely different bottom up type of unity. In their cases violent incidents in the country turned out to be transformational unifying events as exemplified for instance by the 2004 Orange Revolution, the Dignity Revolution and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The formation and empowerment of a Belorussian diaspora, which we are currently witnessing, follows a similar pattern to Ukraine with the conflict between the ruling elites and the people after the 2020 Presidential elections acting as a catalyst for Belorussian unity.

For most post-Soviet independent states diaspora matters became a subject of national interest

At present, almost all former USSR countries – except for Belarus and Turkmenistan – take an interest in their diasporas and try to establish relations with them. In some countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan diaspora policies is a part of migration policy. In others including Kazakhstan, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine it is a part of foreign policy. The level of the institutions in charge of diaspora policy, reflects a real interest of post-Soviet states in their compatriots residing in other countries. Over the last three decades only three countries – Armenia, Georgia and Russia – have, at different times, set up ministerial bodies to implement state policies for their citizens resident in other countries. Today they have either evolved considerably or been abolished.

Moldova’s relationship with Moldavians abroad requires special attention. It is the only post-Soviet country where the diaspora has been able to exercise democratic and political influence on the country of origin. In 2019, thanks to changes in Moldovan electoral law 14 representatives of the Moldovan diaspora from Germany, Italy, Romania and other countries were registered and participated in the parliamentary elections. Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine, are also examples of diaspora influence through the return of people from abroad to their mother country to hold top Government posts.

The Soviet Union collapsed 30 years ago and since then several generations have grown up. For them the break up of the once single Soviet people poses no problem in terms of territory or mentality. The independent states, built out of the wreckage of the USSR, have established institutions and policies for their diasporas. Their soft power and their potentialities are controlled by top Government officials – presidents or prime-ministers, and diaspora policy is implemented by quasi-governmental bodies which are accountable to the authorities and and benefit from non-governmental funding. Over the last decade, diaspora policy in most post-Soviet independent states, has been geared to increasing educational and cultural ties (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan), making greater use of the country’s demographic potential (Moldova, Kyrgyzstan) and benefiting from its soft power through lobbying for its interests abroad (Azerbaijan, Ukraine), or both (Armenia, Russia, Tajikistan and others).

This text was previously published in Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft -IPG in Russian language,

Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Association of Schools of Political Studies.